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Wiley Wandering

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Wondering While Wandering: Tripping in LA? – PART ONE

I recently had the pleasure of attending the UCLA Tennis Tournament with SUNY Plattsburgh's student body president Angel Acosta (it's actually titled the Countrywide Tennis Tournament, but with Countrywide's recent notoriety allow me to frame it more favorably). Angel just happened to be completing an intensive summer film program at USC and we had planned to connect since our schedules were in sync for a California rendezvous. My first wondering/wandering moment relative to this trip occurred around the fact that Angel and I rendezvoused at all!

You see I recall once lunching at one of my favorite eating spots, Broadview Cafe (best soup in the North Country) near West Plattsburgh, New York with Ms. Marvelle Roberts, an exceptional female student who would go on to win the Chancellor's Award before she graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh. Marvelle had taken two classes from me and twice been a Teacher’s Assistant for me as well. She also watched my children for me and was very good friends with my wife Adrienne, who at that time still lived in the North Country. Not that any of this should actually matter, or should it? Well, should it?

Anyway, that day Marvelle and I were laughing and joking when all of a sudden a fairly high profile Plattsburgh woman—that I had only recently met—approached our table insisting I introduce Marvelle to her and even further insisting that we share with her how we knew one another! Neither one of us were prepared for this inquiry! It literally dismantled our sensibilities (yes, that means blew our minds). What would be the reasons someone would approach a couple and passionately question them about their relationship? I was dumbfounded. Marvelle actually said she had never been “so befuddled in all her life.” Marvelle could be a bit pretentious at times (relax Marvelous, I’m just kidding). The bottom line though is that Marvy and I may have been prejudged as being either lovers, or on our way to Loveland or at least Lover’s Lane. Why would that be?

Why did I share this story? Because I am blown away at how we prejudge. I can’t eat lunch with Marvy in a public restaurant and visibly enjoy doing it without being perceived as having overtones of romanticism! Granted she was/is an extraordinarily intelligent, witty, charming, and beautiful young woman. Perspectives on my attractiveness could be so relative what is the point of engaging them, except to say that obviously this woman must have surmised me attractive enough to get Marvelle’s attention. On the other hand, I can basically hang out with Angel, a very intelligent, witty, charming, handsome young man for days, all over Los Angeles, and not come under scrutiny for any relational improprieties relative to our age, or professional status (professor/mentor vs. student/protégé). Perhaps the problem lies so deep that elements of it can be ascertained in even my description of the two students. I described them exactly the same way until I offered an assessment of their physicality, labeling Marvelle beautiful and Angel handsome. Perhaps embedded within that distinction are contributing factors if not additional evidence as to how we are predisposed to unfair and socially unjust expectations of one another’s behavior. Is this true? Can you offer some other examples?

Then there is also another dimension to this scenario. Has anyone focused on the heterosexual privilege on display here? In a heterosexual society it is assumed that Angel and I are heterosexual because we both must project some stereotypical notion of masculinity that is adequate enough for us to not be labeled otherwise. Obviously there are measurable degrees to masculinity and femininity that aren’t quantified, but somehow qualified. I understand this but am lost at the same time. Can someone enlighten me as to what are those measurable degrees for both/either genders?

That wouldn’t be the only part of this that is intriguing. If that isn’t enough for you to consider, let’s take it a bit further. At the same tennis tournament I attended with Angel I also went with my daughter Autumn one day and my goddaughter Tamarah on another. Now, Autumn— who is a very intellectually mature little eight year old— is often said to resemble her father, and she is so young looking that most people would imagine, or dare I say, prejudge us as father and daughter, or possibly uncle and niece. Tamarah, my goddaughter, on the other hand while also being quite intellectually mature for her age, is more physically mature than the average young woman her age. Couple this with the fact that as a result of her being a burgeoning soccer phenomenon on the Southern California sports scene, this young woman has virtually no body fat. So, from a distance she could easily be construed as a mature woman. Well, on the day Tamarah and I attended the tournament there were multiple occasions that we encountered couples that I knew. Along with having had these box seats in my name since the early nineties, I also have quite a few friends active in Southern California Tennis circles. On one of the meetings I had with a couple (a husband and wife) it was very evident that one of the spouses slipped into prejudgment mode rather quickly. PAUSE HERE FOR A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Guess which one you think it was, and how was it they were prejudging. If you do please share with all of us why you think it was the husband or wife (two other politically loaded terms).

IF YOU HAVE ALREADY GUESSED, then PROCEED (though hopefully you will share why you guessed the way you did).

Oh, also, I haven’t even gotten to what motivated me to write this two part blog posting. You will have to read part two to really get to the incident that Angel and I need your help to unpack and make sense of.

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Comments

Hey JW

Wow, what a busybody! There are those that have little else to do than invade other people's space and time. And if by doing so they can stir their own little bit of controversy, all the better. (Didn't you wonder about gossips a few months ago?)

As far as one incident happening in Plattsburgh and the other in LA, I wouldn't leap to the whole heterosexual privledge thing right away. I mean, two African-American men having lunch or hanging out in LA is hardly gossip material.

I'm affraid we often assume the worst in others rather than the best. Perhaps is just a defense mechananism...low expectations means few dissappointments. Or maybe we do it bolster our own floundering self-esteem. I know how great I'm NOT so I must make you appear LESS great in my own mind if I'm to achieve relative greatness. Does that make ANY sense?

There could be lots of sterotyping going on here too, concerning your lunch with Marvelle. There's the whole "big-time-professor-taking-advantage-of-his-authority-over-the-coed thing, for example.

Or, it might simply be that you're a recognizable guy (in Plattsburgh, anyway), JW, and therefore you draw attention to yourself and anyone you're with even if you don't intend to. That's part of living a semi-public life, and, having been in the news business in a former life, it's something I know a little about.

And now for the "who prejudged" thing. Honestly JW I wasn't sure it was a heterosexual couple you were talking about at first, so, I thought you were setting us all up for a trick question. I'm going to say it was the wife. And I'll guess she prejudged that you were running around with a "pretty young thing" for reasons I'm sure she didn't think were honorable. I say this because I believe women are protective of other women much more than men are protective of women, or, other men. Ok everyone - have at me!

JW-

I'll take a guess...I'll say it was the husband, and that he gave you "the old atta boy", wink wink, nod nod.

Looking forward the part 2!

This discussion couldn't have come at a better time as I was in a situation this past weekend where I was prejudged. The head coach of a semi-professional football team invited me to attend one of his games. As a fan of football at the collegiate and professional level, I decided to take him up on his offer to observe the degree of competition. Shortly after taking a position along the sidelines with fans who were cheering for their respective team and the team I had come to watch, I could feel all eyes on me as these fans noticed that I was not a traditional supporter who attended these games on a regular basis. When my friend (the coach) came over at half time and again at the end of the game to converse with me, I could feel numerous eyes focusing in our direction trying to ascertain the connection. At one point, a gentleman approached me and questioned me as to what player I was here to support. When I explained that the coach was a colleague of mine and that I was here to watch one of his games, I could tell he wasn't totally convinced with my answer and continued with the interrogation. My friend even told me that after the game some of his players approached him wanting to know who the "babe" was.

I've had discussions with friends in the past regarding assumptions made when one has a companionship of the opposite sex. Why is it the minute you are witnessed conversing or socializing with such a person that the public assumes you are engaged in some kind of extramarital interaction? I have always rationalized with my friends and colleagues that it is perfectly acceptable to have female friends, as well as, male friends. If society was more open-minded and tolerant of the connection between the male and female population, there would be less gossip and accusations being constructed.

Even though it was a male who was the perpetrator in my situation, I would have to assume that in J.W.'s case it was the female counterpart who cross-examined his relationship with his goddaughter. Women tend to be more aware of situations that are out of the normalcy and will contest it without hesitation. Most men, however, would be unaware of any infraction until it was brought to their attention. Even then, they wouldn't have the same reaction and would be more apt to "high-five" their buddy instead of disapproving of it.

I enjoy friendships with men because as a woman, it is interesting to have access to a male perspective. This is something my female friends can't offer.

On the other hand, gender may not even be a factor. I may be interested in a male for friendship, based on his positive qualities in general. He may offer intriguing conversation, or perhaps he is a good listener.

There may be a value in listening to him, as well. Maybe my male friend needs a female perspective. It is rewarding to know I have benefited another person, by offering advise or friendship when needed.

There is a former business collegue of mine who I thoroughly enjoy getting together with on occasion to have some casual conversation and share a meal with. He is 30+ years my senior and I enjoy his well versed stories about his life experiences . He gives me support and a genuine friendship. Sometimes his wife joins us and I enjoy her personality and the different dynamic that involves interacting with them as a couple.
She is not threatened by our friendship.

In general, though, I think people are reluctant to form friendships with a member of the opposite sex because of how they may be percieved by others, who base their opinions/predictions on other scenarios they may be aware of (or think they are aware of) that resulted in infidelity. (yes, a stereotype) It might seem realistic to consider these scenarios, which do frequently occur. Marriages have a higher probability of failing than succeeding in our society and infidelity is often a factor or a side effect . While something may "seem" to be possible or even probable, these attitudes keep us from progressing to a social environment where we could feel comfortable in having friends regardless of their gender.

But a huge problem is the fact that sexual programming is everywhere. Our minds are infused with it daily, both consciously and subconsciously. Sex, money, power and social status all feed off eachother and dominate our society. As members of this society, we run the risk of allowing ourselves to become victims to the concept of sex, automatically applying it to scenarios that aren't necessarily sexual. In becoming victims, we also victimize. This is what people do, unfortunately.

Someone recently said to me with conviction, "Will you please just give me the benefit of the doubt?" I have heard this phrase many times in my life, but until hearing it recently, I had not really fully processed this simple but profound statement.

I think that by assuming that the perpetrator questioning J.W. about his niece was the wife would be a prejudgement in itself (given J.W. hadn't let us know it was) Why is it that in our society we assume that women would have that role as an antagonizer? Maybe women want to know such things like this because we feel that we have been left out of the loop in many "important" male centered/ dominated conversations (political meetings for example). We have to find things that are important to us. Still, why do we pin importance around males?

I hope that little tangent made sense. I am looking forward to Part 2 as well.

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